How did I survive 53 years of undiagnosed ADHD? I definitely didn’t survive unscathed. One of my saving graces was that I had a ferocious appetite for books. The structured classroom environment, with the teacher lecturing for a week, homework, and then the dreaded test never worked for me. Much of the time my brain translated the lectures into the voices of the parents from Charlie Brown.
I did learn to draw however. I got great grades in Art, Music, and Creative Writing. Had this been an art school, I would graduated with honors. This was public school, however, and that meant preparing students for “real” jobs.
Most of my early education was in the 1970s. I had never heard of ADHD and I'm pretty sure neither did any of my teachers. Instead of being screened for ADHD, my symptoms/traits were taken as lack of interest or in some cases, outright rebellion. Eventually, boy did I rebel. I realized early on, that if I was going to make anything of myself, it wasn’t going to be on their terms. Maybe some people can pull off the whole quote “me against the world” thing without the negative baggage that usually accompanies that attitude. I started to take on a boat load of that baggage. Anger, low self-esteem, drug abuse, anxiety, and the list goes on and on. Welcome to the world of co-morbidity with undiagnosed ADHD.
My parents confessed to me once that they did not expect me to live past 20 due to my drug abuse and reckless behaviour. I basically was experimenting with anything and everything and probably should’ve died a few times over. Deep down I was losing the battle for my self-worth. The way I saw it, the educational system was the antagonist. It was the end of the second act, and I was getting my butt kicked.
But all was not lost. Without knowing it, I had been learning coping skills for my ADHD. Some of them were mere bandages, while others proved to be useful, and I still use them today. It was a very hit and miss process and it took years to pull myself off the floor.
In my early 20s I met the woman who I would marry, and start a family with. Shortly before we married, I went cold turkey from all drugs and alcohol. I never went back. Amazing what love and prayer can do. I didn’t even drink so much as a beer for a couple decades. Now I can enjoy an occasional beer (one of the seven wonders of the world) without ending up binging until I pass out, or doing something incredibly stupid.
I went from working in minimum wage jobs for decades to making a six figure income (although that didn't last). I now love furthering my education and constantly take courses in all kinds of subjects from art to quantum physics.
Now 56, I have five children and three grandchildren. I was only diagnosed a few years ago and believe the best part of my life is just beginning. So, although not unscathed, I did survive. Not just survived, but thrived. I took the hard road, but you don't have to. Get diagnosed now and save a few decades of struggling.
Are You ADD? is an autobiographical documentary about the life of Director Wes Gray who went undiagnosed with severe ADHD for fifty-three years. It covers his struggles with common ADHD symptoms throughout his life in school, work, and relationships. The film ends showing how being diagnosed brought him hope and a passion to spread awareness about the reality of ADHD.
Look and Feel:
The film starts with Gray's narration over wide shots of NYC: "It is estimated that up to ten million people have ADHD and are not aware of it. They have never been diagnosed or treated for ADHD. That's equal to the entire population of New York City. For fifty-three years I was one of those 10 million." Animated charts will visually highlight facts during the narration. Clips from interviews with leading ADHD experts are used throughout, adding to the understanding of what ADHD is... and how devastating it can be when undiagnosed.
Using family 8mm film and videos, the film will examine director Wesley Gray's life along with interviews shot at 4K. Starting with Gray's first days in elementary school , where the symptoms of his inattentive type ADHD were first first documented in notes made by his teachers on his report cards. A visual of his 1st grade report card reveals the
teacher's comment, "Wesley is always looking out the window, daydreaming. "If only those daydreams could have been graded! I was always creating stories and worlds in my head... which, in the end, for me, turned out to be more beneficial than the required subjects." Gray said. ADHD was not widely recognized at the time (late 1960's) and Gray's inattention was often only seen as negative, not trying hard enough, or even laziness.
Although Gray was several grades advanced in reading, he struggled in many other subjects and his self esteem began to be adversely affected at an early age. The pattern continued into high school where Gray started using illicit drugs and skipping classes. Gray discusses the reason he thinks he was drawn to drugs and considers it may have been a way to self medicate to relieve his ADHD.
After high school his family moved to the Pacific Northwest where he met his soon to be wife. They married when Gray was 21 and they had five children over the next fifteen years. Desperate to provide for his family, he took any work he could find, yet over the next two decades found himself losing even the simplest of jobs.
Gray taught himself 3D animation by reading books and articles on the subject during his lunch break while working as a night watchman. He volunteered online to do some graphics for a game being made by a programmer at Jet Propulsion Labs on a personal project. Soon afterwards the programmer joined a video game division of JVC in Los Angeles and offered Gray a position as a 3D Artist. Although creative jobs were more suited (and higher paying) Gray still often found himself out of work and couldn't figure out why. He knew he wasn't stupid or lazy and had not touched drugs since his marriage. Finances did stabilize a bit with the creative type jobs. In 1995 Gray was featured on several television shows including MTV in Europe as an early member of the first ever internet band along with UK band Londonbeat and Dave Stewart of the Eurthymics among others. These experiences helped give Gray a much needed self-esteem boost and he realized his best shot at a stable income was in creative roles. Yet even with these periods of achievement, everything seemed to always fail in the end and he still couldn't understand why.
The title for the film came out of an encounter Gray had with his factory supervisor: Gray's job at the time consisted of repeating the same simple process on parts in an assembly line, He had performed this task thousands of times flawlessly for hours a day, day after day. However, every once in a while his mind would drift off into a much more interesting imaginary world. A very large mess would ensue at his station and would result in the shutting down of the entire line until it was cleaned up. " How the #$@# did you not notice that?" Gray's supervisor barked. "I don't know" was the only thing Gray could come up with in moments like those, that seemed to happen randomly. Several disasters later his supervisor asked him, "What are you, ADD?"
Ironically, Gray did indeed have ADD, but just took the comment as just one more insult in a lifetime of insults and innuendos. Frustrated, Gray enrolled in a one year business trade school and did very well at first. However, his varying grades on tests in subjects like accounting prompted his teacher to accuse him of cheating in front of the class. "How is it you can get an A one week and a F the next?" she asked. At the time Gray could only guess it was perhaps his hay fever making it hard to focus, which judging from the instructor's expression, was not a valid reason in her mind. On the final exams Gray barely passed and his accounting instructor told him "You should not be an accountant." Gray had spent that year full time in college trying as hard as he could to succeed. only to fail once again to break the cycle of chronic unemployment that was becoming an ever increasing strain on his entire family.
The film shows via character narration, interviews, animation, and reenactments, Gray's struggle including his roller coaster income fluctuations, and his relationships with people. In one reenactment, in order to help the audience understand what ADHD feels like, a couple is having a romantic dinner at a restaurant. The man's wife is telling her husband a very important story. At first the man has good eye contact and focused on her every word. About halfway through the conversation using multiple audio tracks we start to hear what the man is really hearing in his head. The kitchen staff, other tables conversations, a bus going past outside the window, a kid asking his mom to take him to the restroom, etc. His brain trying to process everything at the same time. Of course, when his wife asks him a question, it's obvious he hasn't been listening and the romantic dinner is ruined. That along with other ADHD symptoms, were wreaking havoc on Gray's relationship with his wife, kids and others.
Cinematic style footage showing Gray and other subjects in the calm beauty of the Northwest U.S. is juxtaposed with Gray's narration describing the intense struggle he went through, and still has does to a lesser degree. At age 53 Gray finally read Dr. Hallowell's book Driven to Distraction. "I read the case studies one after another and realized I most definitely had severe ADHD and had all my life." Gray then adds, "The awesome thing was, all these people in the book responded to treatment and it improved their lives dramatically!" Gray went to see a psychologist for ADHD testing. "Afterwards I asked how it went" , to which the psychologist stated, "Remember all those tests you
failed in school? Well you aced this one!
Gray went to his family physician to ask about his options for ADHD medications. "I wanted to get help as fast as possible, having been warned that my job was once again in jeopardy for randomly forgetting to clock in at my computer." The nurse came in and performed a routine blood pressure check. Her eyes grew wide and she immediately brought the doctor in who informed Gray he needed to check himself into the emergency room as he was at risk of a stroke.
As Gray now knows, one common trait of ADHD is to put things off and act on impulse. Gray ignored the urgent nature of his condition and waited to go to the hospital. He then had a minor stroke and once again ignored the hospital staff's recommendation to stay for more tests. "At the time I was more worried about losing my job than my health" Gray said. He checked himself out and returned to work. A few weeks later he had a much more serious stroke and spent a month in hospital with his right side severely affected by the stroke. Unable to use his right hand, he lost his job which required both hands to control a mouse and a joystick to control 3D software . Over the next several months he recovered from being wheelchair bound to walking with a cane and can now work on his computer using his left hand and voice to text software. "I re-accessed my skillset and realized I could still do many of the things I love like writing, producing video, and composing music."
Gray's hope of starting on ADHD medication was dashed when his doctors were understandably more concerned with his blood pressure and heart than his ADHD. "What's funny, I now can see that my ADD is what probably got me in this predicament." Gray said. Almost two years later he has had to focus on his heart condition and work on reducing his blood pressure.. "For now I use diet, exercise and supplements to help manage my ADHD, but soon I hope to try a low dose of some of the nonstimulant ADHD medications out there. Everyone is different, you have to find what works for you." Gray said.
The film ends with Gray slowly regaining movement on his right side and starting medical treatment for his ADHD. Looking back, Gray considers his fifty-three years of undiagnosed ADHD to have been a greater disability than his stroke. "I consider ADHD an asset once you know what you're dealing with and treat it accordingly."
Please join me as I talk with Jeff Copper on Attention Talk Radio about how having a stroke changed the way I deal with ADHD.
The show aired on Wednesday, Aug 12th at 8pm Eastern. You can watch the archived show above.
Do you suspect you may have ADHD? The following is a list of common symptoms of ADHD. This list is only some of the traits of ADHD / ADD and can vary greatly:
1. Distractibility: Are you easily distracted and lose your focus when performing a task or in a conversation?
2. Disorganized: Do you have a hard time organizing your desk, bills , schedule or anything else?
3. Restlessness: Do you often have a hard time sitting through a meeting or class? Are you constantly moving your leg or playing with a pencil? Or is your mind racing with thoughts continually?
4. Procrastination: Is it difficult to begin a task, or do you start multiple tasks but never finish them?
5. Chronic Tardiness: Are you often late for work, school, or meetings? Do you wait until the last minute to get out the door, only to find you forgot something and now will be late?
6. Impulsivity: Do you take unnecessary risks with finances or when driving? Do you blurt out inappropriate comments. Do you crave excitement?
7. Excessive Talking: Do you continue to pour out your thoughts even when the person you are talking to seems uninterested in the topic(s)? Do you cut them off when they speak or finish their sentences?
Don't panic, having these traits doesn't necessarily mean you have ADHD. It is when these traits significantly interfere in your quality of life, jobs, and relationships that you should seek help from a professional. The good news is that many people completely turn their lives around once they are diagnosed and receive treatment.
As someone who just found out a couple years ago that I had ADHD for most likely all of my life, I began devouring every book,video, and white paper I could find on the subject. One of the first things that really struck me was the wide range of opinions even among professionals regarding ADHD.
I've read everything from the authors suggesting we are damaged goods if we have ADHD and should just take our meds and shut up... to were all amazing geniuses with superhuman powers. Then of course there is the camp that denies ADHD is real. Of course, at one time people thought the world was flat and elephants held it up.
Research continues to expose the myths and misunderstandings at a ever increasing rate. However, until the population is fully educated about ADHD, we must not be defined by uninformed opinions about what ADHD is. Our gifts and struggles are both unique and often common to those with ADHD. Yet we never should be defined solely by ADHD, our gifts, or our struggles.
Hi, my name is Wes Gray, I’m directing a documentary about ADHD titled Are You ADD? I became very interested in the subject, as one could imagine, when I found out I had it at the tender age of 53, just over a year ago. It was like reading the final chapter in a mystery novel, where everything that happened in the book finally makes sense.
As far back as I can remember I was labeled as a daydreamer and underachiever in school. Guilty as charged on both counts. Although I excelled in things I was extremely interested in, such as creative writing, art, and music (Which are 3 subjects that seem to have been low priority in my public school in the 70s), everything else seemed like climbing Mount Everest, just to finish simplest homework assignment. In an effort to retain the last drops of self-esteem the public school system hadn’t yet drained me of, I resorted to drugs and started a rock ‘n roll band. Awesome career choice, right?
I managed to eke out a living as a musician playing in taverns until my early 20s, and work some odd jobs while my band wrote an album’s worth of material to give the music thang one more shot. At that time, My girlfriend moved in with me and before long (surprise) she was pregnant. I was just beginning to do some heavy soul-searching that year. Whereas before that I would've just told her to have an abortion and moved on with the party, now with my newfound Christian faith I just couldn't do that. I asked her to marry me, and it was the best decision of my life. We are still married to this day. I’d like to say happily ever after, and for the most part it has been… except for a little thing called ADHD.
The funny thing about ADHD when you don’t know you have it, your behavior often seems perfectly normal to you. Although I’m glad we were married young, most people put a little more thought into getting married than I did. A common trait of ADHD is being impulsive. Looking back on my life I could go on for hours about crazy things I did, most likely due to impulsivity. As Dr. Edward “Ned” Hollowell, a leading ADHD expert says “..if your impulsive, that’s bad… you don’t know what you’re going to do next, you’re a gun that fires without aiming…and sure enough impulsivity can be dangerous, but, what is creativity? but impulsivity gone right. You don’t plan to have a creative thought... you don’t say it’s 10 o’clock. Time for my creative thought, and lay it like an egg. Creative thoughts necessarily pop… they are impulsive, spontaneous… they depend on your being somewhat disinhibited.”
Another common trait of those with ADHD is having a hard time focusing when someone is speaking to them for any length of time. After decades of working labor type jobs to support my family. I finally discovered that creative type jobs paid more and were much more suited to me. Not knowing these ADHD traits were hardwired into my genetic code caused a lot of grief in my life. My biggest nightmare was when a factory supervisor would come over on the noisy floor and rattle off a paragraph of instructions that he expected me to do without having to repeat himself. I lost more jobs than I can count due to that one trait, and not knowing what caused it, or how to fix it.
That brings me back to the title of this article, How I Made a Six Figure Income with Untreated Adult ADD. My dirty little secret is that it only happened once in my entire life. But when you have ADD you hang on to those victories, no matter how short lived. A few years ago I got an estimate of my Social Security income from the government. It went back all the way to my earliest jobs and year-by-year it listed my income. If I turned that list into a bar chart, it would look like a roller coaster because my income varied so much throughout my life. I probably don’t have to tell you how hard that must been for my wife and family. After being diagnosed with ADHD, the level of understanding and empathy for each other has grown tremendously. And with treatment, there is now hope that the roller coaster ride is finally over. Yes, ADHD is real and has a equally real impact on society.